What You Learn From Waking Up And Exploring A Brand New Country

Photo: Blue Planet Studio / Shutterstock
woman in croatia

By Angela Lukenda

It is absolutely astonishing to me how one day you can be on one side of the Atlantic, and then to the other. How you can pick up your belongings, pack up as much as you know about yourself, and move across an ocean, and begin a new exploration of who you are and want to be.

I have been fortunate enough to wake up across the world and begin a six-month adventure abroad. However, to say that getting here was an overnight task would be an understatement.

Although I was one to leave the majority of my packing to my last two days in Canada, I know it made it easier on my mom rather than packing a month in advance — at least, that is what I told myself.

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I have been blessed enough to take on this adventure with a friend, who goes by the name of Chris and is experiencing Europe for his very first time through this exchange. This is something that I think adds another aspect of adventure: being able to share this experience alongside someone.

Moving to Croatia ties to family roots; knowing I was coming to a country where I am lucky enough to have family added a sense of reassurance to the adventure. Where, if my clumsiness leads to a doctor’s visit, I have a family member in the country to call (again, making it easier on my mom since I once did get stitches from tripping while having a solo dance party in my bedroom).

One thing to note about moving to Croatia is that the country does not actually require a Visa for students to enter from Canada. However, as an exchange student from Canada, you are required to go to the police station to get a temporary stay permit.

As much as this might seem simpler than receiving a Visa, the three-hour wait to get these papers was excessive but did not stop my friend’s and I excitement to tour our new home on our very first day in Zagreb, Croatia.

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When finally getting to the front, eager and excited to finish the process, we found out someone had already registered me as a Croatian citizen.

While our landlord is with us speaking loudly seeking an explanation, I am there trying to use my Croatian skills to translate. While Chris, whose papers went through fine is looking like a deer in the headlights, knowing no Croatian other than the words for different forms of alcohol and thank you, remaining lost during the whole exchange.

After my almost deportation, my papers were figured out, and I was finally okay to stay in the country.

One of the most prominent things about Zagreb is its infrastructure throughout the city, and I am not only talking about the beautiful buildings but the fact that the city has a bakery every three minutes down any road. Something truly beautiful, and something that made Chris’ eyes light up like Christmas morning.

As a past tourist of Zagreb, I knew some stuff about the city, but spending the day walking around our new home had finally added a sense of reality to a year’s worth of planning — something which was to become our home to explore, form new memories, make new stories, meet new people, and find ourselves.

As Erasmus students — which is a program that most countries have for exchange students to get together, and a program that hosts events and trips for these students, from Erasmus Amsterdam to Erasmus Zagreb — our Erasmus program had pre-planned a welcome week of events for the Zagreb exchange students.

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Besides doing our self-guided tour of the city, choosing to get lost in Zagreb, we decided to attend an event hosted by the program.

As two students heavily involved with extracurriculars back in Canada, we are usually always on the opposite side trying to get students to come to our events.

However, now it was our turn to go back to first-year and take part in welcome week all over again.

Nevertheless, our first event was a bar night, with two dollar shots of rakija (a traditional Croatian liquor) and $1.50 beers (note that these beers are also the size of my head, making me fall more in love with the city) at the event, you could say we were really getting immersed in the Croatian culture.

At least, that is what we told our parents when we said we were going out for welcome week. As my brother’s response to the picture of the signs for these drink specials was “molitcu za tebe” which translates to “I will pray for you,” night one was in full swing.

The bar overlooked the entire city and while Chris and I were roaming around, I noticed a group of students around our age.

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Next thing you know, the group is somersaulting on the ground, then came me, who was motivated for a somersault challenge between the group. Although the challenge was short-lived, it ended with all of us at the bar together.

The group of students was from France, and from this bar to their invitation for us to join them at another bar down the street, the late night European adventures had begun.

Bar hopping with a group of students from France, who have now become a group of our close friends during the month we have spent in Europe, the adventures from that first night have only continued.

From the first week, to now, a month into Exchange, time has slipped away but the stories have been endless. From living in Zagreb, going to Budapest, attending an Andrea Bocelli concert, crepe parties with our Frenchies and visiting Vienna.

The European adventure has just begun and has taught me more about myself and who I am as an individual than any class I have ever been in.

Whether it be going to my first cat cafe, studying on bus rides to different countries, attending lectures with students from across the world, touring the city late at night and seeing the churches light up the entire sky, the little adventures make up just as much as this exchange as the larger ones.

As I continue to look for more little stories in my daily routine, Zagreb has kept me on my toes and keeps me longing for more, and excited to find more.

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Angela Lukenda is a writer, adventurer, and former teaching assistant. Visit her author profile for more of her work on traveling and lifestyle topics.

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.